Guest Blog Post By Allan Gray, OneArtsKC – Regional Cultural Plan Steering Committee Chair
One cool fall morning over coffee, Harlan Brownlee and I were discussing the future of the arts in Kansas City when he cautiously asked, “Would you be willing to chair the Regional Cultural Plan initiative and make it a reality?”
There was a certain bit of irony in the request, given my long-time and enthusiastic interest in cultural planning and having championed the idea for years. Over a decade ago, I’d shared coffee with Robert Bush, CEO for the Charlotte Mecklenburg Arts & Science Council, where I was first introduced to the concept of cultural planning.
Robert shared how cities around the world were awakening to the idea of integrating arts and culture into the infrastructure of communities in the same ways they plan for economic development, education, urban development, roads, highways, sidewalks, and storm water. Communities were acknowledging and supporting the reality that the arts are as essential to a community as other services and bring a city to life!
My years of working in community development, the arts, and now as an elected official told me that this was the way of the future. Finally, here was a proven concept of how to ensure that arts and culture were always embedded into the planning process…and budgets.. of developing communities.
And so it was, that following this enlightening conversation and seeing the results of cultural planning in his city; public art, thriving arts programs, construction of major arts and cultural institutions, and committed support from business, civic, and elected leadership. I began to drink the Kool-Aid and see, along with a rising wave of others, the wisdom and practicality of cultural planning.
The other part of the irony to lead this effort, was that only a year before, while serving as Board Chairman for ArtsKC, Harlan, Hannas Zacharias and I, during a fact finding visit with leaders from the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce, had stood looking out over the city of Charlotte from the top of the Duke Energy world headquarters and dreamed aloud saying we need to create a cultural plan for the Greater Kansas City Region.
Of course, my response to Harlan’s request was an enthusiastic “Yes”! And so began an 18 month walk down the path towards the future of the arts in the five-county Kansas City region. Not since founding the Kansas City Friends of Alvin Ailey have I been inspired by an idea with such possibilities, potential for impact, and ability to change the fabric of an entire community.
Thus far it has been an exciting journey, where people from all walks of life have embraced the idea of cultural planning and made it their own! Where communities have opened their imaginations to new possibilities and applications for integrating the arts into our community DNA. Where residents, business leaders, elected officials, artists, arts organizations, and a wide variety of community stakeholders have taken the reins to shape the first five-county Cultural Plan in the nation!!!
I have been elated by the passion, creativity, deep commitment, and affection for this metro area initiative that have come forward from so many people. I have listened to a chorus of voices that have shared ideas that spring from deep belief in the power of the arts! I have witnessed the excitement in Town Hall meetings, listening posts, board rooms, County seats, restaurants, homes, schools…wherever conversations about using the arts to build communities are taking place. And I have been moved by the energy created by the countless volunteers from all over the five-county, two-state area that have said…”Lets Do This”!
OneArtsKC – Regional Cultural Plan reflects the wisdom and vision from more than 1800 individuals from all walks of life from all over the metropolitan area. It reflects the visionary and forward thinking leadership of County elected officials who have given their support to it! It reflects a belief in the arts and in establishing a sustainable framework that future generations will enjoy and look back with appreciation for our willingness to take the necessary steps to make certain the arts are part of our legacy.
OneArtsKC – Regional Cultural Plan presents a rare opportunity for all of us to shape the future of our region to ensure that the current arts renaissance that we all enjoy is sustainable and nurtured for generations to come. We have an opportunity to ask ourselves, “What do you want greater Kansas City to be?” This plan shapes that vision and provides a roadmap for making that happen. While I am excited by the vision and goals that this plan reflects, I also understand that this is a living, breathing document that will..and should…change as more artistic and cultural interests and needs for the community change and evolve.
Now that ArtsKC has unveiled the plan, what happens now?
The simple answer is truly many things all at once. ArtsKC is listening to the community and learning more. Learning more about what people think of the plan, what gets them excited, what role they want to play in it, and how their communities can participate in actively supporting the Regional Cultural Plan. We have several teams of people who have been intimately involved in this process who are ready to meet with communities in all five counties to listen and learn.
We will be hosting a public launching event later this year where we plan to share more details on how to become involved or lead in developing and supporting the core strategies of the plan. There will also be opportunities for becoming engaged along the way with short and long-term projects and components of the Regional Cultural Plan.
So, what can YOU do? The first thing you can do is read the plan. It’s on our website here. Become an advocate. Share it with others. Talk with your children’s teachers, other parents, co-workers about the plan and its importance. Let us know what you think and how you want to help.
Contact your county commissioners and legislators and let them know you support the plan and ways the plan can serve your community. Are there parts of the plan you like for your community and would you like to have a role in making it a reality?
The bottom line is that the Regional Cultural Plan doesn’t belong to ArtsKC. This plan belongs to YOU! It is a real opportunity to make a commitment to ensuring the region is a place where the arts always have a place to flourish and be a part of our lives!